This Commons Library briefing paper provides information about looking for a missing person, dealing with their property and affairs while they are missing, and applying for a declaration of presumed death

This briefing paper deals with the law in England and Wales, unless otherwise stated.

When a person goes missing, depending on the circumstances, someone else may need to look for that person; deal with their property and financial affairs while they are missing; and/or apply for a declaration of presumed death.

Looking for a missing person

A missing person may be reported to the police. In addition, a number of organisations offer assistance in searching for a missing person.

Guardianship

A person going missing may give rise to a range of difficult financial consequences, as well as emotional and personal problems.

The Guardianship (Missing Persons) Act 2017 came fully into force on 31 July 2019. It creates a new legal status of guardian of the affairs of a missing person, enabling someone to act in the best interests of a person who has been missing (generally) for 90 days or more. Applications for guardianship must be made to the High Court and, once appointed, guardians are supervised by the Office of the Public Guardian (OPG).

This Act has been referred to as “Claudia’s law” – referring to Claudia Lawrence who is missing.

Presumption of death

The Presumption of Death Act 2013 came fully into force on 1 October 2014.

This Act enables an application to be made to the High Court for a declaration that a missing person, who is thought to have died or who has not been known to be alive for at least seven years, is presumed dead. Once it can no longer be the subject of an appeal, a declaration is conclusive as to the presumed death and effective for all purposes and against all persons. The missing person’s property passes to others and his or her marriage or civil partnership is ended.

Both Scotland and Northern Ireland have separate legislation governing the presumption of death.